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So there I was, sitting in the Hog Trough Grill and Feed, half a
block
north of the Hardyville stoplight, sipping a cappuccino and reading
e-mail
on my laptop.

Well, okay, it wasn’t exactly a cappuccino. But Janelle, the
waitress,
had offered to stir Kream-i-Whip into the Folger’s crystals, speculating

that it might be “just about probably the same thing in a way.”

Kids: don’t ever try this at home.

So anyway, there I was sipping whatever it was and reading e-mail.
The
message on the screen was from FreeLife reader Glenn Stone, who wrote
from
deep within the urban caverns of Georgia:

I’m not looking for Hardyville. I know where it is; I’ve
found it in a number of places in North Georgia, Tennessee, and North
Carolina. I do, however, have a question: What does one DO out there to
keep oneself in chicken fried steak and gas for the pickup truck? … [I

know I'd like to be more independent, but] I can’t figure out how to get

out of this little grey cube and out there where I know I’ll be free.
… So
what I’m really asking is, for this country-born, city-bred geek …
where
the hell is the hole in the mouse wheel?

Janelle looked over my shoulder as she delivered a load of buckwheat
cakes and offered, “We’re lookin’ to hire a dishwasher, evenings. Would
that help?”

“Probably not, Janelle. But thanks.”

Times like these, I’m glad I’m not Ann Landers, facing thousands of
impossible questions every day. One’s enough.

The sorry fact is that any caged mouse who wants out — whether out
into
the country or just out of a nasty job and into a more humane urban life

is probably going to have to grow big, pointy teeth and claws, and rip a

hole right through the circling wheel without much help. Then,
godblessim,
may he leap out and leap far. Nobody can do it but the mouse himself –
though perhaps I can offer some perspective from a former cage-runner.

In this column, we’ll look at potential ways of earning a living in a

rural town. Then next week let’s talk about how to manage with less
money,
more time, and more fulfilling work wherever we may be.

Jobs ala Hardyville

A little place like Hardyville sounds charming as all get out to
folks
stuck in 5:00 o’clock traffic. But frankly, it doesn’t sound so great to

people trying to run businesses. Half the storefronts on Hardyville’s
main
street are gaping empty. And that’s typical. Why? Because people who
think
they want to live here absolutely know they don’t want to shop
here.
No discounts. No selection. Not efficient. And now there’s the Internet
for
competition. It’s not only the storefront businesses, either. What
manufacturing operation wants to be set up where supplies arrive
unreliably, where shipping is expensive because the place is so out of
the
way, and where there aren’t many people who can do whatever job needs
doing?

So no, there aren’t likely to be hordes of employers in Your Own
Private
Hardyville, just waiting to grab you and pay the Big Bucks. Sorry, not
even
the Skimpy Bucks, usually. Bottom line: If you want to move to a small
town, the easiest way is to bring your own job.

Easier said than done, right? Right. “Easy” is a relative term when
you’re talking life changes. But you can start investigating any time.
Figure out where you’d like to go. Maybe check out several places. Read
Yellow Pages for those areas and for a bigger area to see what useful
services might be either missing or oversupplied. Talk to locals about
what
they do and need. On the other hand, think about a business that’s not
dependent on geography — that you can do wherever you are. If you don’t

have piles of money to invest, think about how you can best invest your
skills.

Small town business possibilities might be all over the map:
independent
software development; remodeling and “fixit” work; catalog sales;
Internet-based sales; specialized agriculture products (herbs, exotic
animals); regional or ethnic foods; medical services (lots of old people
in
places like this); specialized retail; horseshoeing and other animal
care;
operating a campground; independent trucking; furniture making. Who
knows?

One good source for ideas for independent income in rural areas is

HREF="http://www.backwoodshome.com/">Backwoods Home, the
world’s
best magazine. But starting your own business is risky, time-consuming,
sometimes expensive. It’s not for everyone. And even those so inclined
can’t usually just leap into it, like that. So isn’t there anything
else?
Well, one or two things.

I hate to say this, I really do — but in a lot of small towns,
government has been the only growth industry for the last ten years.
This
means there might be jobs on the tax rolls, from road maintenance,
ranger
duties or computer services to various variety of bureaucrat. We
discourage
the latter type in Hardyville, and hope you’ll provide ample
discouragement
to bureaucrats wherever you may go. But it’s a sorry reality of the
Republicrat Era that even small towns might have government jobs when
they
don’t have the freedom-enhancing kind. Subscribe to local weeklies and
keep
an eye on state job listings if this is your sort of thing.

Now, what about the much-vaunted “telecommuting” the media has been
all
a-flutter about these last few years? It’s a sure bet that, in the long
run, working at home while also working for some distant corporation
will
change both the face of work and the prospects of tiny mid-nowhere towns

like this. But in our household, we’ve got personal experience, and our
judgment is: not ready for prime time.

My Significant Sweetie works on cutting edge software for allegedly
cutting edge technology businesses. The companies he contracts with are
inventors of cyber-wonders, so you might expect them to be eager to leap

into the future via telecommuting. His skills are in demand.
Nevertheless,
in five years, he’s found just one to hire him without requiring his
body
to park itself in one of those gray cubies. Hire someone who’s off in
Hardyville, while The Boss is in Boulder or Redmond or Cupertino or
Boston?
Heaven forfend! The sluggard might take a 20-minute coffee break while
we’re not looking! He might not be here to attend our Compulsory Team
Meeting On Empowering the Independent Workforce for Self-Motivation!

So sometimes, a move to Hardyville might mean resigning yourself to
spending part of your time away, working in that cubie at least a few
days a
week, or one month out of three, or three out of six, while you make a
transition to your true vocation. Such part-time “cubie” relationships
are
available through temp agencies, and with an increasing number of
corporations.

If you’re a so-called “knowledge worker,” definitely don’t neglect
the
possibility that your present employer might, in the long run, work with

you on that sort of arrangement, even if it doesn’t seem likely now.

And help is on the way for all telecommuters and telecommuter
wannabes.
The International Telework
Association and Council
and its magazine, Telecommute are
promoting
independent work and showing people how to do it.

How do I survive in Hardyville? Barely. I write and sell my
work
to faraway publications. Yes, it’s an occupation people fantasize about,

and in many ways I’m blessed. But don’t let anyone kid you. This is a
good
way to starve. When I left the city, where corporate clients could take
a
look at me once a month or so (which, for some reason made them insanely

happy), my income dropped by at least 80 percent.

But I prefer this to traffic and pantyhose and schedules. So here’s
another bottom line, even more fundamental than “bring your own job”:
Have
the right attitude.

I started out with one attitude in my favor (though for many years it

seemed more like a drawback). I hate Other People’s Dumb Rules so much
that
I’ll put up with anything to work on my own terms. Believe me, I had a
lot
of obstacles to overcome (most of them self-created) before I could chew
a
hole in that mouse-wheel and escape, but I got here, finally.

You may think you’re stuck now — especially if you have children to
support, a spouse who favors the high life, a pile of plastic debt, a
mortgage or a big lease on your Lexus. But nothing’s hopeless, as long
as
you point your thoughts in the right direction. The path out of that
gray
cubicle might even be nearer and shorter than you imagine. The thing is
to
stop focusing on the trap and to begin focusing on specific
things

you ultimately want and that you can do specific things to
achieve.
That’s what we’ll talk about next week.

Oh yeah, if you do make it to a small town, it might be a good idea
to
bring your own cappuccino maker.

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